Source – rcinet.ca
– “…The sale of Rupert’s Land, the largest real estate transaction in Canadian history, dwarfing Russia’s sale of Alaska to the United States two years earlier, put the Métis on a collision course with the federal government in Ottawa, which rushed to establish control over its new territories. This collision course resulted in two rebellions”
Louis Riel – Métis Visionary? Father of Manitoba? Rebel? Martyr?
In Manitoba, Louis Riel Day is the third Monday in February and is a provincial holiday (first celebrated in 2008) – this date does not coincide with a memorable event in the life of this most controversial of Canada’s historical figures. The date was chosen to break up the long period between New Year’s Day and Good Friday, and the name of the holiday was chosen in a competition amongst school children.
Elsewhere in Canada, Louis Riel Day is observed on or around November 16, the anniversary of his execution, but it is not an official holiday.
The duality of the celebration of the man is in keeping with how he is treated in history – he just doesn’t fit neatly into a category. Was he a hero? A traitor? A Messiah for the Métis People? A villain? A contributor to confederation? He has been called these and many others. There are even two statues showing him in divergent lights – one, on the Manitoba Legislative grounds, shows him as a statesman (1966), looking out over the Assiniboine River and the other (1970), formerly on the Manitoba Legislative grounds but now on the grounds of the College Universitaire de Saint-Boniface, Winnipeg, depicts him as a naked, suffering soul.
His role as a leader and committed visionary for the Métis people was recognized by the government of Manitoba on November 3, 1995, with the enactment of the Louis Riel Institute Act:
2(2) The name of the corporation is the “Louis Riel Institute” in recognition of
(a) the unique and historic role of Louis Riel as a founder of Manitoba and his contribution in the development of the Canadian Confederation; and
(b) the Métis people who were among the first citizens in Manitoba and who played a significant role in the founding and development of Manitoba and of the West.
Purpose of the Institute
3 The purpose of the Institute is to serve as a Métis educational and cultural institute that will
(a) promote the advancement of education and training for the Métis people in Manitoba; and
(b) foster an understanding and appreciation of the culture, heritage and history of Manitoba and of the Métis people in Manitoba for the benefit of all Manitobans.” Manitoba Laws
What he is, without a doubt, is one of the most widely recognized historical figures in Canadian history, and continues to be a subject of much discussion and dissection. Riel’s vision and determination influences Métis people of today to continue to thrive and grow in Canada.
With the passage of the British North America Act in 1867, Métis people were legally recognized as one of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, but were not under the jurisdiction of the Indian Act. On January 8, 2013, the Federal Court ruled that the 200,000 Métis and 400,000 non-status Indians in Canada are indeed “Indians” under the Constitution Act (formerly the British North America Act) and as such, fall under federal jurisdiction. On February 6, 2013, the Government of Canada announced it was appealing the Federal Court ruling
Canada commemorates hanged Métis hero’s legacy – By Levon Sevunts
Canada is marking the 132nd anniversary of the execution of Louis Riel, a visionary Métis leader and a rebel, whose fight to protect the rights of the Métis nation led to the creation of the Province of Manitoba, but also eventually put the hangman’s noose around his neck.
Riel was hanged on Nov. 16, 1885 in Regina, Saskatchewan, after being convicted of treason for his role in the so-called Northwest Rebellion. It was a desperate attempt by the Métis to protect their rights in the face of the rapidly growing encroachment by European settlers from eastern Canada who were set on colonizing western territories.
“Today, we commemorate the life of Louis Riel, a fearless Métis leader, politician, and founder of the province of Manitoba,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.
“Louis Riel was a courageous and impassioned defender of minority rights and a key contributor to Canadian Confederation. Today, we celebrate a man who envisioned – and fought for – a more diverse and more inclusive country.”
The Métis emerged as a distinct Aboriginal people in west central North America during the 18th century as the result of intermarriage between mostly Catholic and French-speaking fur traders and Indigenous women. They established their distinct communities separate from other Aboriginals and European settlers.
Eventually, their unique way of life, culture, traditions and their language known as Michif developed into a new collective consciousness and a sense of distinct nationhood.
But that distinct way of life and national identity was threatened by European colonization when in 1869 the Hudson’s Bay Company was pressured by the British crown to sell the vast continental expanses of Rupert’s Land to the newly created Dominion of Canada. It was an area stretching over a third of what is known as Canada today.
The sale of Rupert’s Land, the largest real estate transaction in Canadian history, dwarfing Russia’s sale of Alaska to the United States two years earlier, put the Métis on a collision course with the federal government in Ottawa, which rushed to establish control over its new territories. This collision course resulted in two rebellions.
Louis Riel circa 1873 © Provincial Archives of Manitoba/N-5733
Riel was a central figure in both uprisings – the Red River Rebellion in 1869-70 and the subsequent Northwest Rebellion in 1885. He also led two popular governments, the first of which negotiated the creation of the Province of Manitoba and its entry into the newly created Confederation in 1870 and the second attempted to enshrine similar Métis rights in Saskatchewan.
However, 132 years after Riel’s execution the Métis are still fighting the legacy of policies of successive federal governments that left them economically and politically marginalized and threatened the very existence of their culture and language.
Reconciliation with Canada’s Aboriginal, Métis and Inuit communities has been a central theme of the Trudeau government.
In April of this year, the federal government signed the Canada-Métis Nation Accord during the first Métis Nation-Crown Summit in Ottawa.
“This accord is a solid foundation on which to build a new partnership – one based on recognition of rights, respect, and co-operation,” Trudeau said in a statement.
“As we continue our journey of reconciliation, I encourage everyone today to honour the Métis people and recognize their many contributions to Canada.”